Naruto Uzumaki is a colorful ninja who excels in combat but can be kind of annoying. It's therefore fitting (if unfortunate) that while Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm is a great fighting game, it's also one in which you have to endure a lengthy, story-driven Ultimate Mission mode in order to unlock most of the playable combatants. Ultimate Ninja Storm does a lot of things very well, but exploration, item collection, and storytelling are not among them.
The first thing you'll want to do in Ultimate Ninja Storm is pick a favorite character and dive right into combat. You can't play the game before its mandatory installation is finished, though, and because there's almost 4GB of information that needs to copy to your hard drive, you'll wait at least 10 minutes. Once that's out of the way, the Free Battle mode lets you choose who you want to fight as and against and where you want the fight to take place, and it gets the action under way with a minimum of fuss.
The camera rarely stops moving, but you're always afforded a great view of the action.
Although there's no tutorial option in Ultimate Ninja Storm, the controls are simple enough that they don't take long to figure out. The face buttons are used for jumps, projectiles, melee attacks, and chakra charging. The shoulder buttons are used to block and call in support characters. The D pad has four different items mapped to it, and the left analog stick is used for movement. You're free to run anywhere you like in the large arenas, and even when combatants are far apart the camera does a superb job of framing the action. Occasionally you might end up viewing the battle from a camera that's more or less looking over the shoulder of your opponent, but the shifts in perspective are so smooth and so intelligent that the action very rarely gets confusing. It's a testament to how great the camera is and how accessible the controls are that this holds true even when you end up defying gravity in fights that move from the ground to the vertical surfaces of walls in some arenas.
Since there's only one button used for melee attacks, that's your go-to anytime you're close enough to an opponent to land a punch. There are plenty of lengthy and satisfying combos that can be performed using very little else, but getting a combo started doesn't necessarily mean that you'll get to finish it. That's because blocking is relatively easy--though not to the point that you can simply hold down a shoulder button and never worry about getting hit. Once your guard is up you can hold it in place for a good amount of time, but this doesn't do you a lot of good. Your opponent will be charging up his storm gauge and become more powerful every time a blow lands, and ultimately your guard will fail and, because you were hiding behind it for so long, you'll be dazed for a few seconds when it breaks. There's an excellent risk-versus-reward mechanic that comes into play when you're having to play defensively; rather than keeping your guard up, you have the option to tap the block button repeatedly in an attempt to parry an attack the instant before it lands. If you succeed, you'll perform a substitution jutsu, evading the attack completely and appearing directly behind your opponent, ready to launch into a combo of your own.
One of Ultimate Ninja Storm's most interesting features is the use of chakra. You have a finite amount of this energy that can be used any time to make your existing moves more powerful, and the longer you charge up the chakra, the greater its effect is. You can dash across the screen in an instant by using it in conjunction with the jump button, for example, or turn three projectiles into 30 with a ranged attack. Using chakra with your melee attack will perform a character-specific jutsu attack, some of which look impressively like anime scenes as they play out. Managing your chakra can be every bit as important as guarding against an opponent's attacks--you can restore chakra at any time by standing still and holding down the chakra button, but doing so leaves you completely vulnerable.
The only thing you use chakra for in Hidden Leaf Village is opening locked doors.